The one productive day of the year

The paint is now drying

This is it. This is the day when we’re feeling rested and relaxed. We’ve done most of the pressing chores that need doing. Quality time has been spent with loved ones, family and friends. Planning has been done for the coming year. Movies have been watched. And today, we were full of energy and verve and without commitments.

So it was time to start a big messy project we won’t have time to finish.

Messy before

As I mentioned, we’re readying for the attic project in the new year. Part of that includes clearing the stuff that’s currently in the attic out. Our plan there is to move Grey’s bunk beds to Thane’s room with both twin mattresses. (Right now there’s only one mattress and the bottom is open.) Then the guest bed – a very nice queen bed – will move to Grey’s room. He’ll have to go to his brother’s room if we have company, but that’s the deal. This requires quite a bit of jigsaw-puzzle like furniture moving. Along the way, we painted a wall on Thane’s room that had been rather poorly maintained by the incumbent kid. I replaced the trashy looking particle board thing in the kitchen that always looked messy with papers spilling out with one Adam painted for me. And Grey used his brand new tool kit (a Christmas present) to help his father disassemble his bed.

Much neater after

The day went fast! Now it’s a matter of energy – can we actually finish the tasks to a sufficiently completed state before we run out of energy?

I’m a little sad to be going back to work tomorrow, but this has been a fantastic, restful and productive break. Also, very very cold.

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Saying Goodbye to Christmas

Today is the day we break down the tree and put away the Christmas ornaments. It’s the bittersweet counterpoint to the day after Thanksgiving. Well, honestly, this year it’s the bittercold counterpoint. This Christmas break period is one of the coldest stretches I ever remember. Twenty degrees seems warm by comparison.

So cold!

My sons were 9 and 12 this Christmas. That’s a little past Santa age. But it’s the beginning of great gifts age. Both of my sons gave me thoughtful and kind gifts. Grey gave me a Starbucks Christmas ornament. Thane got me some sparkly dice. I love watching people learn the joy of finding a great gift for a friend! When I was a kid, my folks used to wrap in my mom and dad’s bedroom. My mom would finish wrapping a present, open her door with a bang, put the present down, and slam the door shut. We kids would race at full speed to pick up the package, shake it, contemplate it, smell it, and place it under the tree. We’d arrange and rearrange the packages under the tree constantly. But historically, my kids just didn’t want it to work that way. Grey doesn’t actually like anticipation. He’d rather have a surprise and no waiting. This year, though, they were in for it! Bonus – it was great exercise from the attic to the tree.

Cutting the tree

We’ve developed our own set of Christmas traditions. There’s the getting of the tree. We like to go to Beverly Tree Farm (which sells out Thanksgiving weekend every year). There’s the hanging of the ornaments and lighting of the tree. This year we did an Advent candle liturgy, where we talked about the week of advent (Peace, Hope, Love, Joy) and lit the candles together.

Advent candles – it was a really lovely moment every week

Christmas Eve Eve, after the rehearsal, Adam and I went to a Blue Heron concert (one of my presents!). It was magical. I’d forgotten just how much I love early music. It made me feel so happy. (He even sprung for front row seats – which are rather more obtainable at medieval music concerts than at rock ones.) In the dark church we shared a moment with our ancestors six hundred year ago. It was an incredibly icy day, and afterwards we carefully picked our way across Cambridge to get cookies at Insomnia Cookies. Best date ever!! (Best of all, he got me all their CDs and a really cool book about the creation of western music notation!)

Blue Heron Concert

Christmas Eve is all tableaux. This is the third year I’ve taken the helm of the Christmas show. I’m wondering how many years it will take until I feel like I am creating instead of remembering how it should go! I was super lucky this year to get some extremely capable help with the costumes. I’m TERRIBLE at costumes and my dear friend who helped me is awesome at them. Next year – we need new angels and maybe a new Mary. This year’s service was pretty magical. There was a medical emergency just as we were getting started (thankfully nothing that ended up being too serious!). Blue and red flashing lights are pretty, but not quite the festive we were looking for.

Christmas miracles

But after that, the old, old story carried its majesty. Mary was teeny tiny. The angel Gabriel was glorious. Joseph was solicitous to his bride (half his height!). The shepherds were appropriately amazed. In perhaps the greatest Christmas miracle of all, the Herald Angel kept his face serious while angeling to the shepherds. And baby Eddie as Jesus looked very sweet indeed. Our youth soloist sounded amazing. Better yet, with the new candles we ordered, no wax got on Christmas costumes. #miracles You can see it here if you’d like. I got to do some trumpeting afterwards, and by 8 pm on Christmas eve I was breathless and full of hope and joy in the season. Thane stayed with me until 9, when we’d gotten things mostly cleaned up, and we left the quiet dark church together to go home to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

This is the year Grey finally got a phone. He’s SO THRILLED.

Thane’s favorite gift was probably Heart Puppy, seen here snuggling Data.

Our Christmas mornings, we open up our stockings together first. (There was the memorable year where the kids didn’t wake us up and started opening presents on their own – a tale which will be told in our house for the rest of their lives…) Then breakfast, and presents! Yay presents! This year, we went to a neighbors for brunch and then the snow shoveling. The Christmas snow that was falling so beautifully needed to be shoveled. It needed to be shoveled VERY WELL because the forecast showed not a hint of melting. (It still doesn’t – the 10 day forecast doesn’t have a single temperature above freezing. It’s January 9 before we get UP to 32 degrees.) But it was a peaceful feeling to dig out on a Christmas day. We helped dig out a neighbor’s house too, which felt very virtuous and in the Christmas spirit.

We had friends over for dinner on Christmas night. It was lovely way to close a lovely day, with friends and conversation!

Christmas dinner

It was, all told, a fantastic Christmas season. I’m sad to say farewell to it! Until next year!

Sermon – Calling Our Pastor

I gave the sermon in church this week, and it went pretty well I think! I definitely don’t have mental capacity to write two long form essays this weekend, so I’m giving you my sermon instead.

For those who prefer watching and hearing to reading, this sermon is on Youtube.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Samuel Anoints David
16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

When I started my journey on the Pastor Nominating Committee, I looked to the book of Samuel for guidance. In Samuel, the Israelites are going through a crisis of leadership. It starts immediately. Eli, one of the Judges whose family has guided the national of Israel since Moses, has sons who are not living up to God’s expectations. That prophecy we remember a young Samuel giving, “Here I am, Lord, is it I?” That prophecy is to tell Eli that his sons will not succeed him.

After giving this bad news to Eli (who takes it surprisingly well), Samuel grows up finds and anoints the first King of Israel, Saul. But Saul’s commitment to trusting God is shaky. Saul gets murderously jealous, clinging to power. And Samuel risks his life to trust God’s word and find a new King who will stick closer to God’s will. In the passage we read, Samuel goes through a long line of hopeful brothers – looking for Israel’s new King.

Our search didn’t exactly go the way I expected, either. Rod retired on April 27 of 2014 – a week after Easter. Our interim arrived that summer, and we began the work of that interim period, figuring out who we were without our leader of 36 years. In Fall of 2015 we finished our intensive Mission Study work, using the New Beginning process. But as that year wound down, it became clear that Pastor Mike was not well. His last sermon in our pulpit was Christmas Eve of 2015. He was diagnosed the next week. By Lent of 2016, he was dead of the brain tumor that robbed us all of his guidance and presence.

Those who were here at that point remember what a crazy, mad scramble it was. We had several weeks where we weren’t really sure who would be preaching, or what would happen next. My brother kindly filled in for us several weeks, and then Presbytery sent Trina to us. It took us a while to get our feet back under us, and resume our pastor-calling process. But by October of 2016, we were ready to start our search for our next pastor in earnest.

The work of the Pastor Nominating Committee was very heavy. There were seven of us who served. I hope you all take a moment this December to thank them for their incredible efforts. We spent the balance of 2016 writing our Mission Information Form – basically a job description for pastors. Early on, Trina let me know she was not going to apply then, so we were starting from scratch. We spent a vast amount of time thinking of the skills and attributes that would be needed to help us become the church we hope to be. There were many finer points, but in the end our “must have” list was pretty short:
They must be Presbyterian, because we are a uniquely Presbyterian Church. This is the common element we all share.
We wanted a pastor who would be willing and able to be our pastor for at least 10 years. That’s actually a long time for a pastor in this day and age, but a third of the “average” pastorship in our church’s history. We understand there’s no guarantee that the pastor we hired WOULD be with us that long, but we at least wanted it as a possibility.
There are three “big buckets” of skills for pastors: worship, pastoral care (of the sick and those who need God’s human touch) and administration (like fundraising or paperwork). Knowing that it’s very difficult to find all three, we focused on worship and pastoral care.

For several months, the PNC met almost every Sunday after church. First, we wrote our MIF together. Then once it had been submitted, we read applications together. Each application from a pastor is between 6 – 10 pages long. And each of us needed to read all of them – we couldn’t delegate. We’d get a batch of about 30 and read them carefully and prayerfully. We took off their names and replace them with numbers, so we would be as unbiased as possible about gender or ethnic origin. We’d make notes on the candidates, and then come together to talk about who we wanted to invite to a conversation. All told, we read 131 applications.

Once we had the list of candidates we wanted to talk to, we asked them to join us in a video call. We pretty quickly figured out that Monday nights were the best time for this. We’d do three half-hour interviews back to back to back – starting at 7 pm and often not finishing until 9:30 at night. (We always gave ourselves 15 minutes extra, in case they went long or the technology went wrong.) We called in from various homes and couches. We held interviews over 23 times this way. When we had a good short conversation with a candidate, we’d then move to a longer, hour-long video call. We’d briefly worship with the candidates, share our stories (we learned a lot about each other’s faith journeys and lives!) and listen carefully to what the candidates were seeking in their life and call.

Three times, Spring, Summer and Fall, we then invited the best of the candidates to be with us in person. These were full weekend affairs. We’d start with lunch, to get to know each other. We’d interview them for an hour or two on Saturday, and then show them around the church. I’d drive them from Stoneham up to Lowell to show them just what it meant that we are a regional church. Then we’d have dinner at Brad’s house – the two of us who were session members – to answer any questions about church politics, history, finances or concerns they might have.

The next morning, the whole PNC would get up bright and early to go to a strange church and listen to our candidate preach. We worshipped in unfamiliar pews, and listened to different music and tried to find the way to bathrooms in new churches. Finally, our candidate would meet with the Presbytery Committee on Ministry, who would then report back to us on whether they thought the candidate was acceptable or not.

By the end of the second day, we were all past exhausted!

Talking and thinking about our church so much, though, we ended up learning a lot about who we are and what makes us special. I wanted to pause for a few minutes to let you know what it is that is remarkable about our church – what impressed our candidates very much when we talked about Burlington Presbyterian.

1 – Our patience with each other
When learning how long we’d been without an installed pastor, the candidates would often ask about how restless the church was. “Are they giving you a hard time?” I’m sure that you have been restless sometimes in this journey. I know I have been. But not once did a single one of you ever give me a hard time, or the rough end of your tongue, for how long this was all taking. That is actually remarkable, and speaks to the kindness and patience with which we treat each other. Heck, the Deniers brought us cookies for every single meeting. These are not remarkable things in our church – it’s just the way we are. But it’s a precious thing about our congregation.

2 – How we hold together
There has been a lot of stress put on our congregation in the last four years. Our long long time pastor left. Our next pastor died suddenly. We have changed our music program. We have invited a new congregation to worship in our building. And the long waiting time. Many things have happened which were opportunities for discord and dissention. We had lots of chances to schism, or blow up at each other, or fall away. And we haven’t. Through it all, we have stayed together and loved each other. Even when we may not have agreed, or when there were very hard times, we have been on this journey together. Again, that is both rare and precious.

3 – We are together without being the same
Every single pastor we spoke to was amazed at our diversity. Our congregation comes from many countries in many continents. We speak many languages. We are not one culture, or two. We are a great feast of cultures. We don’t all share the exact same political viewpoints. Even here in Massachusetts, we come from many different communities, and from many very different backgrounds. Every time we worship together, it feels like a small Pentecost with our great richness of language and living. This is incredibly rare. Many churches are a lot more homogenous – the same – than we are. The ones who are diverse usually have TWO cultures. Not ten. The equality that we share in our church mirrors the equality we have before God in a wonderful and unusual way.

4 – Finally, we are very authentic together
We show up as who we really are, and we love each other the same way. We don’t pretend (much) to be perfect, or holier-than-thou. We don’t gossip (much) about each other, and when we do it is never unkind. We are a part of each other’s daily lives, not just on Sunday mornings but on Friday nights or Thursday mornings. Our kids show up to worship dirty from the soccer fields. Our babies cry during the sermon. The tags stick up on the back of our shirts, and our back-pew neighbor gently tucks it in. We are accepted and loved just the way we are. I hope it is the same for you, but when I come to worship I don’t feel like I’m faking it, or putting on an act. I feel like I am welcome here as myself.

These things are remarkable and unusual – both in churches and in groups of people in general. These are things about our congregation that are worth treasuring, and preserving.

Coming back to the book of 1 Samuel, the next King that God directed Samuel to anoint was one that hadn’t even been one of the candidates when Samuel begin his search. It required great waiting – remember that they did not even sit while they looked for David. David was out taking care of sheep – not really even eligible in the beginning of the process. It was an unexpected choice, driven by God’s will, and Samuel’s obedience to listening to God’s will.

I feel the hand of God present in our search, too.

It was actually a hard thing for me, to see our year of heavy labor end up with us exactly where we started. I wondered what the point was of having worked so hard and looked so long. This wasn’t how I imagined our journey would go. Our choice to call Trina was not one that we made easily, lightly, or without a tremendous amount of information. It turns out that Trina is phenomenal. In the time she’s been with us, we’ve both grown and changed. We’ve grown together. And together, I can clearly see us fulfilling the call to mission we spent so long discerning. A new phase in our life together beckons – filled with mission, outreach, music and new energy, but built on the authentic love that has preserved us so long.

Thanks be to God.

We have found our new pastor

This project has been an all-consuming one for me this year. It’s not 100% done (see also the next steps) but I’m thrilled at the conclusion we’ve come to. It’s been a tremendous, and tiring, journey, and I’m glad to see home at the end of it!

Burlington Presbyterian Church

Brothers, Sisters and Friends of Burlington Presbyterian Church,

It was almost exactly a year ago that your Pastor Nominating Committee was formed. Seven of us were tapped for service: Chuck Anderson, Judy Brunner, Kim Oey-Rosenthal, Brad Morrison, Ferdinand Akombe, Brenda Flynn and Caitlin Rivet. We spent our first few months working diligently on our Mission Information Form (https://burlingtonpres.org/beourpastor/). We carefully crafted our call out to pastors, and in February we were reading our first applications. We read a lot of applications. By my count, the committee has carefully read 131 applications. We’ve met as a committee over 50 times. We interviewed candidates with a video call 23 times. A handful of those candidates, we invited to hour-long conversations. And three times we’ve dedicated a full weekend to really getting to know a pastor – eating with them, interviewing them, driving them from Stoneham to Lowell, and listening to them preach…

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Fine knacks for ladies

One thing about loving the medieval period is that you get period appropriate music stick in your head. A favorite madrigal of mine is “Fine knacks for ladies” which is basically about a pedlar admitting he sells junk. “Though all my wares be trash, the heart is true.” I think if I’d been in the City of Carcassonne six hundred years ago, it would be just as crowded and commercial. (And much smellier!)

I suppose a big difference is that not a single store there was selling relics! No finger bones of saints to be found anywhere!!

I admire of the French that this great medieval fortress, dating back to the Roman era, is still lived in. There are houses there, and homes. It’s a part of the city, not apart from the city. I don’t think we Americans would do that, perhaps because our history is more rare. I think it’s a good way of preserving it though. People tend to take care of where they live.